Cre­at­ing safe in­jec­tion sites won’t be easy

Drug prob­lem ‘al­ready in ev­ery­body’s back­yard,’ physi­cian says

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MARK MC­NEIL

Ad­vo­cates of safe in­jec­tion sites for in­tra­venous drug users in Hamil­ton believe they face an up­hill bat­tle in gain­ing pub­lic ac­cep­tance for the idea. But they feel the ef­fort is worth it. “I don’t ex­pect it will be easy. I’ve al­ready had one par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion that was rather dis­turb­ing. I’m sure it won’t be the only one,” said Ward 2 Coun. Ja­son Farr, whose ward would likely end up with a site if the city al­lows them.

“There will be some chal­lenges with re­spect to that whole NIMBY (Not in My Back­yard) acro­nym,” he said.

Hamil­ton is study­ing whether to give drug users a le­gal, su­per­vised site, or sites, to in­ject opi­oids such as heroin. The board of health voted Mon­day to study su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites so long as the cost fits within the 2017 bud­get.

As it stands, Van­cou­ver is the only city in Canada with le­gal su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites. Toronto and Ot­tawa have asked for fed­eral le­gal ex­emp­tions to al­low sites to be set up in those cities, while Lon­don and Thunder Bay are con­duct­ing fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies.

Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Green said, “My hope is to have an open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tion in our com­mu­nity.”

He said safe in­jec­tion sites would likely lead to a de­cline in nee­dles and bio­med­i­cal waste be­ing left in “pub­lic spa­ces, be they play­grounds and parks, al­ley­ways, rail yards and the like.

“A safe in­jec­tion gives peo­ple with ad­dic­tions a safe, con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment where they can dis­pose of their nee­dles in a safe way.”

Po­lice de­part­ments have gen­er­ally op­posed safe in­jec­tion sites. The On­tario As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice is­sued a po­si­tion pa­per in 2012 that sug­gested the sites could con­trib­ute to ris­ing neigh­bour­hood crime.

Coun. Lloyd Fer­gu­son, who is po­lice board chair, said at the Mon­day meet­ing, “I have trou­ble with this from a moral per­spec­tive.”

Dr. Lori Re­gen­streif, a Hamil­ton ad­dic­tions physi­cian and McMaster Univer­sity pro­fes­sor, said, “The idea of safe in­jec­tion sites fright­ens some peo­ple. They can’t un­der­stand why we would want help peo­ple in­ject drugs. But when you un­der­stand ad­dic­tions and see it ev­ery day, you get a feel for the ill­ness part of it.

“I guess the great­est fear for some peo­ple is that it is go­ing to end up in their back­yard. But from what I can see in Hamil­ton, it is al­ready in ev­ery­body’s back­yard. I’ve seen nee­dles in parks where I never ex­pected to see them.”

Re­gen­streif, who has ob­served safe in­jec­tion sites in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, says the sites can lead to ad­dicts get­ting help.

“It is re­ally the best way to en­gage peo­ple when they have that mo­ment when they are say­ing, ‘I have to stop this,’ and they are ex­posed to the right peo­ple at that mo­ment rather than peo­ple they would meet in a back al­ley.”

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